Do You Treat Your Subscribers Like a “Homogeneous Lump”?

If there’s one thing that email marketing experts disagree on, it’s the best way to sell via email.

You have one camp that believes you need to build credibility and trust with your subscribers before they’ll be ready to buy. So you should focus on sending great content and nurturing relationships before you offer anything. They can’t believe how crass some people can be by pitching before they’ve built a relationship.

The other side argues equally as strongly that your subscribers are at their “hottest” and most active when they first subscribe. So you should make plenty of offers to them early on. They’re staggered at how stupid some people can be by leaving money on the table when people are ready to buy right away.

So which is right: build relationships that lead up to a sale, or sell from day 1?

The truth is that both sides are right. Simultaneously.

In other words, some of your subscribers will be ready to buy right away. Others need more nurturing. It’s not one or the other, it’s both.

Your Subscribers and Customers Don’t All Think and Act in the Same Way

The same is true for many ways of looking at your subscribers.

Some will respond best to short emails, some to longer more content-rich ones. Some will be interested in product A and B that you offer. Others won’t care about those at all, but be hugely interested in product C.

Some will respond to benefits focused subject lines, others to curiosity or news. Some folks are into stories and being entertained by their emails, others want useful information they can use straight away. Still others by-in to opinion pieces, rants and controversy.

You can’t just treat your subscribers as one homogenous lump and expect to get good results.
Yes, there are common characteristics across your subscribers base and more importantly, between your ideal clients. But there’s still a lot of diversity. They don’t all think, act and respond in the same way.

Marketers usually fall into one of two traps when it comes to managing this diversity.

How NOT to Treat a Diverse Subscriber Base

Some marketers produce bland emails to try to keep everyone happy. They don’t email “too frequently”. They don’t make “too many offers”. They try not to offend in what they write about.

But writing for the middle ground doesn’t work – you never do anything perfectly for anyone. For example: with product promotion a middle-ground strategy means you end up promoting the product too often for the people who aren’t interested in it, but not enough for the people who are. No one wins.

The other trap is to focus just on one subset of your potential buyers.
You’ll often hear marketers say “I write for my buyers, I don’t care what anyone else thinks – let them unsubscribe. They were never going to buy anyway”.

That would be great if there was no diversity in your client base. But in any reasonable sized business with multiple products you’ll have people interested in some of the things you offer but not in others. And your subscribers become ready to buy at different rates. Some are ready straight away. Others need a little warming up. Others a lot. And with some their readiness to buy is driven by external factors outside your control.

So to assume that someone who doesn’t want to buy a specific product right now would never be a buyer of any of your products is incredibly short-sighted.

Dealing with Diversity the Right Way

So how do you deal with diversity without driving yourself mad?

Well, partially it’s about how you write your emails. You need to be able to write emails with both global and specific appeal.

What that means is that you write emails that add value to the majority of people on your email list (even if they’re not ready to buy right now or they’re not interested in the specific product or service you’re focusing on). But you must also make a compelling offer to those who are ready.

If you sell training products on networking and relationship building for example, you might send an email with your best tips for using Linkedin to build relationships. That delivers the value. But in the email you also offer your training course to people who want to find a new job through networking on Linkedin.

Your email has added value to anyone who uses Linkedin, but it’s also specifically speaking to those people looking for a new job who believe Linkedin could be a good tool for that and are ready to buy right now.

Adding value and selling in the same email typically works much better than old recommendations like “send 3 content emails then a pitch”. The problem with that approach is that your potential buyers want to get to the punch and buy quickly, not after wading through a bunch of emails from you. And the non-buyers still get annoyed at the pitch email anyway, no matter how useful your previous emails were.

By adding value and selling in the same email, you overcome this. Non-buyers (who could become buyers later) get value from each email. And buyers get to the offer they’re looking for straight away.

The other approach is Email List Segmentation.

With list segmentation you use the behaviour of your subscribers to determine what you send them.

List segmentation means dividing up your subscribers into segments based on certain factors – ideally their behaviour. With advanced email systems like Infusionsoft or Ontraport (and nowadays to some degree with Getresponse, Mailchimp and ActiveCampaign too) you can either “tag” subscribers based on links they click or web pages they visit or put them onto a specific auto responder sequence.

That means that if they’ve demonstrated interest in a specific topic you can send emails about that topic only to them, safe in the knowledge that they’ll appreciate those extra emails and are much more likely than the average subscriber to respond.

Even with more basic email systems you can segment a list by asking subscribers to opt-in to a new list to get a series of emails or a new lead magnet on a specific topic.

Using the example of the networking and relationship building trainer from above they could create a segment based on all subscribers who’d visited blog posts on the topic of Linkedin, or clicked on links in emails leading to Linkedin resources. Or they could create a new free report with their best Linkedin tips and offer that for free (and add subscribers to the segment if they click the link or opt-in to get the report).

That means they now have a sub-segment of subscribers who they know have a strong interest in Linkedin. They can email them more frequently about that topic and they can be more overt in terms of offering products because they know they’re likely to be interested in them.

So instead of sending middle-of-the-road emails that feel too frequent to those who aren’t interested and aren’t enough of those who are; they can send more to the interested sub-segment and fewer (on this topic) to the uninterested remainder.

The end result: the best of both worlds. More engagement and sales from the interested group, less annoyance from the uninterested group (who, remember, may well be interested in future topics and offers).

Your Turn

So, what’s the diversity in your subscriber base? Have you measured it?

If you sell products, draw up a graph of the time from subscribing to product purchase. That’ll show you whether you have a lot of “early buyer” or “need nurturing” subscribers – or more likely a mix of both.

If your email system allows it, start tagging clicks in your emails and/or visits to web pages for specific topics. That’ll let you see what the main different interest segments of your audience is.

Then start doing something with that data. Write bold emails that add value and sell. Send extra and different emails to your sub-segments.

You’ll soon be reaping the rewards.

Ian Brodie

Ian Brodie is a consultant, blogger, and author of the Amazon bestseller “Email Persuasion: Captivate and Engage Your Audience, Build Authority and Generate More Sales with Email Marketing”. You can get free access to resources from the book and free training on email marketing at